Former Premier League striker Demba Ba has called on football to condemn China’s alleged persecution of its mainly Muslim Uighur minority, and accused the sport of putting money before morals.
The Senegalese international, a Muslim who played more than 50 times for China’s Shanghai Shenhua, told the BBC he was prepared to spearhead a movement to “stand up”.
China’s ruling Communist Party is under growing international pressure over the fate of minorities in its northwestern region of Xinjiang.
More than one million ethnic Uighurs and other minorities, mostly Muslim Turkic peoples, have been herded into internment camps to undergo political indoctrination, according to rights groups and experts.
China says the camps are “vocational education centres” necessary to counter religious extremism and boost employment.
Ba, who played for Chelsea, Newcastle United and West Ham United, said: “I have to try and organise something so football players can get together and, in the meantime, talk about this matter because not a lot of people want to.
“I know there are footballers who want to fight for justice, whether Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, any belief,” added Ba, 35, who now plays for Basaksehir in Turkey.
“As sports people, we have a power we don’t even know. If we get together and talk, things change. If we stand up, people stand up with us.”
Ba joins Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil in breaking ranks over China’s treatment of its Uighurs.
The German midfielder spoke out last year, prompting China’s state TV to cut its broadcast of an Arsenal game. Ozil last week hit out at what he said was Arsenal’s failure to back him.
‘People close their eyes’
Arsenal did not criticise Ozil for making the comments, but posted on China’s Twitter-like Weibo that the club “always adheres to the principles” of not getting involved in politics.
In China, the world’s second-biggest economy and a major market for the Premier League and other international sports, Ozil was lambasted as “a clown” by state media.
Since that incident English football clubs, including Arsenal, have supported the Black Lives Matter movement after George Floyd was killed in the United States.
Ba drew parallels between football’s anti-racism message — with players “taking a knee” before Premier League games — with what he said was silence over Xinjiang.
“The Black Lives Matter movement is stronger when non-black people step up for it,” Ba said.
“When are we going to see the rest of the world stand up for Muslims?” he asked, accusing clubs of putting “pressure on players not to get involved” in the Uighur question.
“If there was a financial risk to Black Lives Matter, it would not have happened,” said Ba, who says he had no problems practising his religion after arriving in China in 2015.
“Arsenal talked about Black Lives Matter but when it was about Uighur lives Arsenal didn’t want to talk about it because of the pressure and economic impact.
“When there are financial benefits, some people close their eyes.
“Money has more value than real values.”